“Mom, can you fix it?”
My college freshman was looking at me with a dejected, mournful expression. She was holding the spider plant I had sent to school with her. It looked awful. Wilted, brown leaves hung limply over the edge of the plastic pot. There were no signs of life.
“Well, that one looks kind of done, but I can give you another one. I’ve got plenty of spider plants. What happened?”
The story unfolded… it was below freezing outside, but the heat in the dorms was turned way up. Suffocating in her room, she’d opened the window a crack. No one thought to move the plant on the windowsill. Unfortunately, spider plants aren’t equipped to survive six degree drafts. The poor plant had frozen during the night.
As I potted up another victim, er, spider plant for my daughter, I realized that while our house is full of greenery, I’d never taught our kids how to care for any of it. Here today, and for the next two Fridays, is how to grow a houseplant.
The primary thing to keep in mind is that plants are alive. I know this seems obvious, but too many people treat them as decorations rather than living organisms. It’s better to think of them as pets. They need food and water, shelter and room to grow. If you meet their needs, they’ll not only survive, they’ll grow and perhaps even bloom. And it’s not that hard.
First of all, plants need light. Some plants need bright sunshine while others need shade. You need to know the requirements for your particular specimen. But no plant will live for long tucked away in a dark corner. Most houseplants are happy with bright but indirect light, such as sunshine filtered by sheer curtains.
Remember that sunlight varies with the seasons. A windowsill that is shaded in summer may receive full sun (and burn your plants) as the seasons change. It’s better to set the plant back a bit from the glass, such as on a bookshelf or table. If you have to put your plant on a sunny windowsill, consider growing cactus.
Temperature extremes are also dangerous for plants, as my daughter discovered. Both icy drafts (including the cold that penetrates a pane of glass in winter) and hot, drying furnace air are equally harmful. Most houseplants are happy at the same temperatures we enjoy.
Next time we’ll talk about how to feed and water your plant.